Kingston woman upset by oversight body’s findings into incomplete appendectomy
A Kingston woman who underwent two surgeries to remove her appendix because too much of it was left behind is calling for better advocates for patients at hospitals.
Christine Sulek-Popov had to undergo two appendix removal surgeries after her first surgeon inadvertently left 5 cm of her appendix in her body. (Ashley Burke/CBC)
Christine Sulek-Popov, 41, had her appendix removed at the Kingston General Hospital in August 2013.
The emergency procedure was supposed to leave behind only 5 mm of appendix, according to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
But in Sulek-Popov’s case the doctor inadvertently left behind about 5 cm of appendix. The surgeon told the college it had fused to other tissue and was hard to properly identify, according to the college’s final report on the matter.
In February 2014, Sulek-Popov went to the hospital again, suffering from the same pain that led to her appendix being removed.
‘It felt like hot acid’
“It felt like hot acid being poured everywhere. It felt like being stabbed from the inside,” she said.
“I was vomiting blood and I asked one of the nurses if I was going to die and she didn’t know.”
The following day a different doctor performed a second emergency appendectomy and discovered that the 5 cm of appendix left in her body had ruptured.
After a week in hospital and a month of recovery, Sulek-Popov filed a complaint in January with the hospital and the college.
She said she never heard from the hospital and that the response from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario shocked her.
Surgery was ‘adequate,’ college says
The committee that looked into her complaint found that the first doctor’s surgical technique was “adequate,” though they did find that the doctor failed to ensure proper follow-up.
The hospital’s procedure has changed as a result of the incident: follow-up appointments are now made when patients are discharged. Patients are no longer expected to call and make their own appointments while recovering.
“It’s not adequate,” Sulek-Popov said, adding that she feels she’s fighting a losing battle with the college.
“There’s no one from the hospital advocating for me.”
Sulek-Popov has appealed the college’s findings to an independent government body called the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board.
Province hiring patient ombudsman
Unlike other provinces, Ontario does not currently have a patient ombudsman to investigate the unresolved complaints of patients.
Arthur Schafer, a medical ethicist and director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, says a patient ombudsman won’t solve everything. (CBC News)
The province is currently recruiting someone for the new job.
But unless the ombudsman has the power to enforce policy change, Sulek-Popov said it will be just one more bureaucratic hoop for patients to jump through.
Arthur Schafer, a medical ethicist and director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, said the hiring of an ombudsman could be a step in the right direction, depending on their powers, but it won’t solve everything.
“The truth is across our country — whether a province has an ombudsman or doesn’t — there’s a massive failure of getting good patient feedback and good communication between doctors, and those are very serious deficits in our system,” he said.
Starting Sept. 1, all hospitals must have a staff member responsible for patient relations to improve their experience.
In an emailed statement, the Kingston General Hospital said it has had a patient relations department in place for a number of years and that the hospital is “disappointed to hear” one of its patients feels their concerns were not addressed.